The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith was published in April. The theft and forgery of a 17th Century Dutch painting in Brooklyn in 1957 unlocks a whole chain of events, linking many different lives together in a finely worked web of mystery. The story reaches back in time from Brooklyn in November 1957 to Amsterdam in 1636, and to Sydney, Australia 2000. Dominic Smith deftly weaves the different time lines together throughout the book, with each step into another timeline adding another layer to the story and unfolding more of the mystery. The stolen and forged painting was the last known painting by a Dutch female artist from the Dutch Golden Age, a rarity in itself. The forger is Ellie Shipley, a young Australian living in New York making a living from restoring art works, as well as some not so ethical work. The painting had belonged to the same wealthy family for over 300 years, and its owner wants it back, even though it seemed to have cast a malevolent spell over the family. To say too much more would spoil the story, but suffice to say that decades later, when Ellie is curating an exhibition featuring Dutch female painters of the 17th Century, both the forged work and the original threaten to come together in a way that will jeopardise her whole life, carefully reconstructed life.
Dominic Smith has a beautiful way with words, moving his characters through wonderfully evocative backdrops within the different eras. The characters are verybelievable, so much so that people have asked if there was a real Sara De Vos, the painter in the story. There are lines that will stay with you, such as, “Poverty appeared first in their meals, then in their shoes, and finally in their thoughts and prayers”. There is suspense, history and drama, a story of human frailty, and how one small decision after another can create such profound effects in an ever-widening circle through time. It is also a story about redemption and restoration. This is a wonderful book, one you will want to read quickly on the one hand to “see what happens”, but also one that demands to be read carefully in order to fully absorb the beauty in this well-crafted novel.